Nothing turns a friendly neighborhood cookout into an all-out war like dragging the cornhole boards onto the lawn. Sure, many of us millennials and Gen-X-ers grew up with “participation trophies,” but trust us: those didn’t weaken our desire to win. At everything. All the time.
Lawn games should be no exception. Your friends who lob their beanbags so carelessly, watching them flop sadly to the side of the board? Suckers. But we won’t go so far as to assume you’ll practice your technique at home, in the months leading up to grill season. Just learn a few tips from the experts and let them guide you when it’s your time to shine. We’ve covered the commonly-encountered classics like slackline and cornhole, and some curveballs like bocce too, in case you run with an alternative crowd. Now go get ‘em, champ.
The Premise: A full-contact beanbag toss, you try and lob your beanbags into the hole while knocking opponents’ bags out of the way.
How to Crush Your Opponents: Brent Doud, the CEO of outdoor game retailer TOSSO.com, says it’s all in the throw. “It’s an underhand throw, and you should grasp the corn bag with your thumb on top of it.” The goal is to put a bit of side spin onto it. “Not over-the-top spin—then it will hit the board and bounce—but if you keep the bag flat, it will dig into the board,” he says.
Also crucial is the arc. You want the bag to drop down onto the top of the board, not come in hot and slide off the back. Toss it up with a good bit of oomph, and aim for the front of the board, since some momentum will carry the bag towards the back edge. “Don’t go for the hole. That’s a recipe for having the bag slide off the back,” says Doud.
Finally, according to the American Cornhole Association (yes, that’s a thing), you’re allowed to throw from anywhere behind the front of the opposing board. Doud says to “snuggle up” as close as possible to the throwing line—the closer you are, the easier things are going to be.
The Premise: You’ve probably seen this game but never knew its name. Teams of two try to sling balls with string between them onto a three-railed fence. Each rung has a different point value, with the lowest rung offering one point, the middle rung granting two, and the top rung worth three points. The first team to get to 21 points, wins.
How to Crush Your Opponents: Doud actually invented the game, so he knows a thing or two about acing it. “Don’t hold the string, hold the balls when you throw,” he says, adding that you should hold one ball and allow the other to swing in a pendulum motion before you let go. This will mean the string is fully extended and thus has the most chance of latching onto the ladder on impact. “Aim for the middle rung,” he says: If you miss, at least there’s a chance of snagging one of the other rungs—whereas if you miss while going for the top of the bottom, you’ll likely end up with nada.
The Premise: Impress potential romantic partners with your ability to walk across a thin strip of nylon.
How to Crush Your Opponents: Don’t try and do a backflip your first time aboard. “I've seen even the most coordinated and spatially aware people I know be diminished to wobbling wrecks during their first steps on a slackline. Everyone starts at the same place,” says Joey Holmes, the editor of CoolOfTheWild.com and a longtime slacklining fan.
But, if you want to have a leg up on everyone else, strengthen your core. “Do some planks and side planks,” she says adding that joint stability is important too. To practice this, work on standing on one leg.
If there’s booze involved, make sure to double-check the slackline setup—the line should be secured by a ratchet. Are the teeth of the ratchet really gripping the line? If not, skip it and head back for round two at the grill. Also, make sure no empty bottles have been discarded near where you’ll be slacklining.
The Premise: Shepherd a ball through a course of wickets using a wooden mallet while saying things like, “Well that was a sticky wicket.” Ball busting—in the literal, billiards-like sense—helps you slow your opponents down. The first person to reach the end of the course wins.
How to Crush Your Opponents: Like golf, proper positioning is essential. Square up your body and place the ball slightly in front of you, says Michael Medeiros, Club Manager at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club in Cape Cod, where croquet is a longstanding tradition.
“The biggest mistake in croquet is thinking the game is simply a race around the court through the wickets. The most valuable skills in croquet are patience and strategy,” says Medeiros. Do take the time to throw others off course, but don’t take so much time away from advancing your ball forward that you are surpassed by your challengers.
The Premise: Try and throw your ball closest to a smaller ball, called the pellina. Knocking of other player’s balls is encouraged.
How to Crush Your Opponents: “It’s a simple game to learn but a game that takes years to perfect,” says T.J. Stranova, president of the Italian-American Bocce Club of Greater New Orleans. That being said, if you’re playing a backyard game, you don’t need to be perfect—just better than your buddies. Before you chuck, take note of the course you’re playing on. How thickly the grass is cut will change whether your ball rolls a little or a lot as it touches down. Use an underhand throw and really focus on the follow through, says Stranova. Aim for right in front of the pellina, to account for the fact that your ball will probably roll a bit after it lands.
Don’t worry too much about trying to knock your opponents out of your way. While that’s a really fun part of the game, it can distract beginners from getting close to their actual target. Finally, don’t overthink or overdrink. “There’s a sweet spot with Bocce between where you’ve had a couple of beers but before you have had one too many and it gets hard,” says Stranova. Try and find that spot if you can.